In sign language, “abortion” isn’t a euphemism

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For years, Pro-Lifers online have shared a powerful gif to demonstrate a simple Pro-Life argument.  The video clip is a seconds-long image of woman signing the word “abortion” in American Sign Language (ASL).  The woman first makes a cradling motion with her hands at her chest and rocks them back and forth.  For people unfamiliar with ASL, the first part of the word construction nonetheless obviously signals something having to do with a baby.  Next, the woman stops the rocking motion, flattens her left hand, and makes a discarding motion with her right hand.

The image is jarring.  The video, originally posted on Hand Speak, an online video dictionary for ASL, went viral multiple times.  Evidently in response, Hand Speak took down the original video, and replaced the controversial one with the word “removal/removed.”   ASL has several different ways of signing many words, including “abortion.”  The website Signing Savvy demonstrates three different ways of signing the word, including the version originally included on Hand Speak.  

The updated, truncated video is accompanied by a question from the curators of Hand Speak.  They ask, “Why is this ASL verb/noun ‘REMOVE/REMOVAL’ being scrutinized by hearing English speakers where the colder English word ‘abortion’ (a verb [sic] derived from ‘to abort’) is not talked about?”  Yet, hearing English speakers are fascinated by the ASL word for “abortion” precisely because of the colder English word “abortion.”  The word “abortion” in our spoken and written language has morphed into a euphemism that is paired with a “woman’s choice,” “love,” and “justice.”  “Abortion” in the English language is supposed to only deal with “clumps of cells,” “POCs” (products of conception), and “mistakes.”  For a shocking number of English speakers, “abortion” has absolutely nothing to do with a baby.

The truth is that every abortion takes the life of an innocent child.  There can be no pregnancy without the presence of a son or daughter.  A woman’s choice should be respected, especially in difficult circumstances, but a just society intervenes when a mother’s choices threaten the Life of her child.  Love can never be synonymous with ending the Life of a child, and there is no greater injustice than taking Life from the most vulnerable.  For all these reasons, the simple, straightforward video showing “abortion” in ASL touched hearts and minds around the world.  When you are forced to see words as they really are—visualize the meaning—euphemisms fall apart.

The response of abortion activists has been telling.  The gif was posted to a humor website, which incited a string of morbid and obscene comments joking about killing a preborn child.  The video has been so popular over the years, that even staunchly anti-Life publications have covered the topic.  Revealingly, the abortion activists did not even pretend to have a response to the Pro-Life movement’s use of the video.  Instead, one writer glibly shared expletive-laced sign language tutorials of nonsensical sentences.

Seeing a word in another language can reveal meaning we don’t want to convey in our own use of the same word.  The unmistakable gesture indicating a baby in the ASL for “abortion” reveals the core of the Pro-Life message.  Abortion violently removes a preborn baby from his or her mother’s womb, ending child’s life.


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